Food & Culture

The best Christmas hams for 2019

What makes a perfect Christmas ham? We asked a panel of experts to blind-taste test nine different versions, and the results are in.

By Georgie Meredith
Whether served warm and glazed with a sticky, sweet spice mix, or simply sliced with a side of relish, ham has long been the crowning glory of an Australian Christmas feast – and an essential filling for picnic sandwiches in the days following.
Choosing the right ham is critical: the meat should be tender with a smooth texture, while the flavour should be a subtle balance of salt and smoke. Typically, hams are injected with brine to ensure an even distribution of flavour. This process must be done with care, as over-pumping can result in pockets between the meat and the skin. Colour plays an important role, too. The meat should be an even shade throughout, which indicates that the ham has been cured correctly.
This year, we asked four experts to taste test nine hams from across the country, to crown the ultimate Christmas champion.
THE JUDGES
  • Jacqui Challinor, executive chef, Nomad
  • Lennox Hastie, head chef and owner, Firedoor
  • Luke Powell, head chef and owner, LP's Quality Meats
  • Mitch Edwards, marketing & communications manager, Australian Pork Limited
(L-R) Judges Luke Powell, Jacqui Challinor, Mitch Edwards and Lennox Hastie.
FIRST PLACE
From: Noosa Meat Centre, Qld
Style: Full bone-in
Price: $13.99 per kg
Pictured: #1
Mitch: This is one sexy beast!
Lennox: Dark, mysterious, firm and tightly structured – it's absolutely stunning.
Jacqui: It's very dramatic, isn't it? There's a fantastic colour to it.
Luke: The appearance is great.
Lennox: It's very unique in taste. It's quite dense and there's a really nice salt level to it, but it's also very smoky, maybe overly smoky.
Jacqui: There's a great balance of saltiness and smokiness. It packs some serious flavour.
Luke: It doesn't get any more moisture as you cut into the middle so it's nice and even, and there's a nice amount of seasoning. It's wicked.
Mitch: It certainly lives up to its good looks.
SECOND PLACE
From: Andrew's Choice, Vic
Style: Full bone-in
Price: $21.95 per kg
Pictured: #9
Mitch: This one is beautifully shaped. There's a fantastic, thick layer of buttery fat.
Lennox: It's a magnificent leg with loads of fat.
Jacqui: The fat cap is great, but it's overcooked.
Luke: I do really like the flavour – it tastes like it's been seasoned with spice.
Jacqui: You can definitely smell the spice.
Mitch: I think it's beautifully balanced in flavour, almost perfect, but it's just a touch overcooked.
THIRD PLACE
From: Griffin & Morris Village Butchers, Vic
Style: ½ boneless
Price: $30 per kg
Pictured: #3
Lennox: It looks like the muscles have separated.
Mitch: It's not the prettiest. But it has a really nice flavour – it's very well balanced and quite mild.
Luke: Great flavour, and it's really moist and juicy.
Jacqui: You can see the gaps between the muscles, but it ticks all the boxes in the taste department: smoke and saltiness, slightly sweet and a lovely texture.
Lennox: I do love the texture, it's nice and tender.
Mitch: It tastes classic. You're not getting blown away with salt or smoke, and you can just simply enjoy the taste.
REMAINING CONTENDERS
From: D'Orsogna
Style: Jarrah Honey ½ boneless
Pictured: #7
Mitch: This ham has a great rustic look and lots of smokiness to it.
Lennox: It's a nice, tight leg with a consistent and even colour. It definitely feels and looks like a premium ham. There's none of that over-pumped look.
Luke: It has a very even brine and a really well balanced flavour.
Lennox: It's well-powdered and consistent.
Jacqui: I think it ticks all the boxes in terms of smokiness, salt and sweetness. It has a great texture.
From: Premier Meats, Tenterfield, NSW
Style: ½ boneless
Pictured: #2
Luke: This one doesn't have that classic netting pattern.
Jacqui: It looks unevenly pumped.
Mitch: There's a bit of discolouration and inconsistency. It also tastes quite sweet. I would prefer to have a bit more salt coming through.
Lennox: It's pretty tasty. It has a strong pork flavour and a nice, long finish.
Luke: I actually like it when ham is a bit sweet. This one is very moist.
From: Woolworths
Style: full bone-in
Pictured: #4
Mitch: The fat is very creamy, but it looks slightly overcooked as you get into the centre.
Lennox: It's definitely got a nice shape, and the fat looks smooth and velvety. I don't like the flavour though; it has a powdery finish.
Luke: It is quite dry, but nicely seasoned. There's just not a lot of flavour there.
Jacqui: It has a nice shape and a solid fat cap. But I agree, it's dry and powdery. It's way more flavourful in the centre, but I want more smokiness and saltiness.
From: TAFE NSW Granville Meat & Allied Trades
Style: 1/2 bone-in
Pictured: #5
Lennox: This would've been a pretty big pig. It looks so succulent! But it's really watery.
Mitch: It's a nice looking ham; it's beautifully textured.
Jacqui: This one is sneaky. It looks great when you're cutting into it – really moist – but that's almost detrimental to the taste.
Luke: You can see that the muscles have split from over-pumping.
Mitch: The flavour is perfectly mild and it tastes consistent.
From: Barossa Fine Foods, SA
Style: full bone-in
Pictured: #6
Luke: It's a good shape. I think it's been hung in muslin, which isn't very good for smoke penetration.
Mitch: It's perfect for a Christmas table centrepiece.
Lennox: It's nice and tight, and well-shaped.
Jacqui: I think it looks great. It's moist and consistent in colour. Luke: It has a really strange aftertaste, almost a little nutty. It's like it's been hot-smoked or had nitrogen added to it.
Mitch: It tastes lovely upfront but there is an unpleasant aftertaste.
Lennox: The fat is almost like plastic, it doesn't melt.
From: Bertocchi
Style: 1/2 bone-in
Pictured: #8
Jacqui: It looks like a supermarket ham.
Lennox: It's incredibly dense but there's a nice, solid colour to it.
Luke: It smells really sweet and it feels really springy.
Mitch: It has a mild flavour, with quite sweet overtones. I like that it's moist.
Jacqui: The consistency is almost slippery. It's missing that slightly rough, meaty ham texture.
Lennox: It's really bouncy and I find it overly sweet. There's a plastic quality to the fat, too.